NBA Draft's Top Prospects: Five Big Questions after a Wild Weekend of March Madness

Rafael Barlowe and Chad Ford break down their scouting impressions from the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament

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Let’s share our thoughts after the exciting first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

Which top NBA draft prospects did the most to help themselves, and which did the least?

Who are the NBA draft sleepers we’ve been watching most closely?

And what Sweet Sixteen matchups are we looking forward to?

Answers below.

Chad will return on Tuesday with a full NBA Draft Stock Watch column.


Chet Holmgren and Jalen Duren (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

1. Which top draft prospect — Jabari Smith, Chet Holmgren, Paolo Banchero or Jaden Ivey — made the best case for the No. 1 pick this weekend?

Rafael Barlowe: I may come off a little biased since I’m driving the bandwagon for Banchero as the top pick, but Paolo helped himself with strong back-to-back performances vs. Cal State Fullerton and Michigan State. He posted 17 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, two blocks and a steal on Friday and topped that performance with 19 points, seven rebounds, four assists and a huge block that sealed the game on Sunday. Overall, he connected on 4-of-9 from 3, threw some nifty dimes and, more importantly, made big plays down the stretch vs. Michigan State to keep Duke’s season alive. His seven turnovers were a bit concerning, but overall I thought he proved to be the most NBA-ready.

Ivey also made a strong case, as his incredible speed and contagious energy were on full display against Yale and Texas. Ivey might be the fastest person in the world with the basketball in his hands, and you can’t help but wonder how much more effective he’ll be with NBA spacing. In Sunday’s game against Texas he shot 4-of-7 from the floor (2-of-4 from deep) and 8-of-9 from the line while making some impressive drive-and-kick passes. 

I’ll be honest, I was a little disappointed with Chet’s performance against Memphis. Early in the game, Memphis’ game plan was to attack him in the post, and Holmgren responded by blocking multiple Jalen Duren shots at the rim. But offensively he looked lost, and it makes me wonder how he’ll score if he’s not draining 3s in transition or when he’s not in position to score on putbacks. Maybe I’m wrong here, but I may have finally found a comparison for Chet: He reminds me of a floor-spacing Marcus Camby.

On Friday, Smith looked like the clear No. 1 pick in the draft with 20 points and 14 rebounds while knocking down 4-of-7 from 3 and throwing down a nasty dunk against Jacksonville State. On Sunday he had almost his worst shooting performance of the season, missing 13 of 16 shots from the floor, seven of his eight 3-point attempts and half his six free throws. 

While I don’t put too much stock into one game, some of my concerns were on full display in Auburn’s loss to Miami: Smith struggled to generate easy looks, and three of his shots were blocked. Still, he did average 14.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists in his two tournament games.

Chad Ford: Rafael, you have had Banchero as your top guy all season, and he sure played that way in the first two rounds of the tournament, looking like the best version of the player we’ve seen this year — a dominant offensive weapon and an elite passer for his size. The main issue, as you mentioned, has been his seven turnovers in two games.

For a single game, Holmgren has had the best stat line: 19 points, 17 rebounds, five assists and seven blocks against Georgia State. Just an incredible all-around game. 

And while I agree he didn’t play his best game against Memphis (foul trouble and the Tigers’ physicality got to him, and he was 0-for-3 from beyond the arc), he played tough on defense and gave Duren and the rest of Memphis fits. When Chet is in the game, the paint is essentially closed, with his impact going way beyond the box score. Holmgren is, far and away, the best defensive player among the top prospects.

Ivey got off to a hot start against Yale, scoring 22 points and picking up a couple of steals. He added 18 points, three rebounds and three assists against Texas on Sunday. He was 5-for-10 from 3 in the two games, continuing to show surprising ability to shoot the ball from 3 when he gets his feet set.

As you noted, Smith was awesome in the opening round against Jacksonville State. Not only was he shooting lights out from 3 (4-for-7), but I thought he had the dunk of the tournament — nice to see given concerns about Smith’s finishing ability.

On the other hand, Sunday’s loss to Miami was clearly the most disappointing game and outcome for any of the top four prospects. For those scouts worried about Smith’s offensive impact when his shot isn’t falling, those concerns were amplified. However, he impacted the game in a number of positive ways defensively and … even the best shooters have rough shooting nights. A tough way to end Smith’s incredible season and brief career at Auburn, but given his full résumé this season, I don’t think one game will have a large negative impact on his draft stock.


Bennedict Mathurin (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

2. Who were three players who helped their NBA Draft stock the most in the first weekend?

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